Commitment to Decolonising NCL


At the peak of BLM (Black Lives Matter) campaigning, the world woke up and many of us were energised in making change, last year’s sabb team then began the Decolonising NCL campaign. As time goes on, we remain committed to creating this change within our own communities and this year Decolonising NCL remains key on our agenda at NUSU. Read below how this campaign started, what we have achieved so far, where we hope to take the work now and how you can get involved by pledging to make steps in decolonising practices.

Previous Work Future Ambitions Pledges Resources

What is Decol?

At NUSU, our Decolonising NCL campaign adopts this definition: the theory and practice of identifying and challenging the oppressive structures that persist after the formal political process of decolonisation has taken place, both within the former colonial metropole and its former colonies (Betts, 2012).

Find Out More

Academic Year 2020-21


Launching the Report

Last years’ team of sabbatical officers 2020/21, worked to lobby the university to embed decolonising practices across the institution. The team created the NUSU Decolonising NCL Report which provides a background to how decolonising in higher education started and the theoretical basis of it. You can read the report from last year below.


Launching the Pledges

The team also created a pledge system to encourage university schools/departments and student groups to make a pledge to decolonising practices. We have already received pledges from:

  • School of Dental Sciences (view)
  • School of Psychology (view)
  • School of Computing (view)


Decol Launch Panel 2020

The launch event of NUSU’s Decolonise NCL campaign - "What is decolonising and where do we begin?" This was our first chance to hear from world-leading experts in the fields of decolonising education and anti-racism work. This session was designed to give students and staff the opportunity to ask questions in a safe space and to hear the perspectives of those who have a vision for the future of a decolonised curriculum, University, and beyond. You can watch the full panel video here.

This panel was attended by Professor Kehinde Andrews, a leading academic in Black Studies; Dr Jason Arday, a Sociology professor specialising in race, education and social justice; Fope Olaleye, former NUS Black Students Officer’ and Newcastle alumni and Dr Christina Mobley, Lecturer in the History of Radical Ideas and Decolonizing the Curriculum Coordinator in the School of History, Classics, and Archaeology at Newcastle University.


Decol Medical Sciences Virtual Panel 2020

This event aimed to shed light on the racism, prejudice and biases that often exist within Medical Sciences and provide our students and staff (especially those within FMS, Newcastle University) with the opportunity to further their education on such issues and explore the ways in which they can decolonise their knowledge and combat racial disparities.

Academic Year 2021-22


Decol Panel 2021 (Black History Month)

As part of Black History Month 2021, the Welfare & Equality Officer, Briana Gordhan, aimed to incorperate the themes of Decolonisation into her campaign. The panel focused on the questions of "what really is decolonising the curriculum? Can it really apply to all areas of university life? How the heck do we make it happen?". To burst the myths, we invited students to attend this panel both virtually and in person alongside representatives from the university, and guest speakers. You can watch the full panel here, filmed by NUTV.


Lobbying the University

Now, we plan to expand the Decolonising NCL campaign and lobby the university to take a lead on the work – looking beyond the curriculum to support services, societies, buildings, and all aspects of university life. By the end of May 2022, we aim to take the pledges submitted to the University and lobby for action to be taken to ensure decolonising moves to the forefront of the University’s agenda.

We would also want more committment in resources by lobbying the university to invest in resources and staff to lead Decolonising work within the institution.


Progress on Pledges

We want to progress the amount of pledges we are receiving by working with schools, departments, and student groups to encourage them to commit to a pledge, or to feedback on the difficulties they have faced when trying to generate one. Our aim is to get pledges from:

  • 10 Decol pledges from school or departments
  • 10 Decol pledges from student groups

So far, we have received pledges from:

School of Medical Education (view)

School of Pharmacy (view)



Make a Pledge

This year, we are still encouraging pledges from schools/departments and student groups. What the pledge looks like is up to you, it’s a great way to celebrate and share with students the work within the university that’s already being done on decolonisation and a fantastic way to set goals and commitments to decolonising practices in the future, to ensure this work is embedded across university life. Pledges will help us shape what Decolonising NCL looks like going forward. You can start small and build up and can update your pledge at any point, we think targeting specific areas and having key actions to work towards works best, while working together with students and marginalised groups wherever possible. Be bold, go beyond changes to a reading list and be a part of Decolonising NCL.

Submit Examples


"Over the past few years within UK higher education, there have been increasing demands for decolonisation. These demands have often come from academic staff and students who belong to poorly represented racialised and gendered groups. These calls have been renewed en masse since the resurgence of Black Lives Matter and the death of George Floyd. This resurgence has motivated us at the union to create a centralised campaign that aims to challenge schools, lecturers, modules, and students to decolonise themselves as part of the wider Decolonising NCL campaign.

Across the UK there has been more focus on widening participation by adding authors from ethnic minority groups to reading lists, recruiting staff from underrepresented populations, trying to attract ethnic minority students etc and increasing attention is being paid to equality, diversity and inclusion. However, these measures are often inaccurately conflated with decolonisation. When it comes to decolonising, the solution isn’t as simple as throwing more black and brown authors onto our curriculum or holding the occasional workshop. Critically, decolonisation repositions colonialism, empire, and racism as foundational to the current state and study of the world, making what has been rendered invisible, visible, giving agency to those in the subaltern and repositioning the canon. 

What’s important to hold at the core of all of these discussions is the need for Britain, and white people especially, to really grapple with the colonial legacy. A tick-box approach to inclusion, diversity and equality isn’t going to cut it because these concepts do not address that legacy. It’s really important to draw that line between the colonial past and the racist present. Calling for less-Eurocentric curriculums is not that we shouldn't teach about the Tudors or Shakespeare or how diseases present on white people, which is an argument that some critics of decolonising use to discredit the movement. Decolonising is a call to look at things in a more critical, globally-connected way. In essence, it would mean teaching about the Tudor kingdom as a contemporary of the Mughal empire and Ming dynasty and that would help students to see that the 16th century marked a period of powerful state-building right across the globe. 

Decolonisation is not a metaphor and it must involve deep structural change and must be in collaboration with anti-racist activists, students, artists, and scholars. We all have the work of decolonising, so that we understand a more complete story of the world. It is also important to understand that decolonisation is also not just a humanities problem. It permeates every aspect of learning and academia including the subjects that often argue that they are not colonised. We have a world where our learning, teaching and understanding of who or what is worthy to be taught has been shaped by colonialism and this affects maths and science just as much as it affects history and English.

This campaign and project is a challenge to all of us to shake up what we think we know and critically assess our own opinions and bias. If we are to ever move on and create an anti-racist society, decolonising our thoughts, opinions, and knowledge is essential."

- Dorothy Chirwa (President, 2020-21)


Our Report

In this section you will find the NUSU Decolonising NCL Report which provides a historical background to where the decolonising practice in higher education started and the theoretical basis of this work. The decolonising work undertaken by Newcastle University's students and staff will also be highlighted. Thank you to all contributions by students and staff towards this report.

View Report

Last year the team created a glossary of definitions to explain Decolonising NCL and we felt it was vital to keep in order to help people understand what decolonising and its’ associated terms mean.

We want everyone to feel able to get involved with our decolonisation work, and recognise that some of the terms used may be unfamiliar. Our glossary of definitions will guide you through the basics of race, inequality and decolonising alongside recognising microaggressions and offering wider contextual definitions to better understand the structures of the world we live in.

The Basics


Allyship is a process of working in solidarity with marginalised groups to learn about their lived experiences, understand their needs and issues, challenge discrimination and elevate their voices. Specifically, white allyship is the process of supporting racial minorities and challenging racism and unconscious bias. Allyship involves listening to under-represented voices, educating yourself in racial justice, boosting the voices and opinions of BAME colleagues, and speaking up to challenge racism in all settings. An important role of a white ally is to continue the conversations about race and racism with other white people, both to challenge views and work with other white allies to pool efforts to achieve racial justice.


This is more than simply not being racist. Anti-racism involves having policies in place that do not allow the continuation of racist practices or attitudes and actively promote racial tolerance.

Casual Racism

Casual racism distinguishes between the explicit forms of racism, such as using slurs or physically assaulting somebody on the basis of their race, and more subtle and sinister forms of racism. This racism can include speech and behaviours that treat cultural differences – such as forms of dress, cultural practices, physical features or accents – as problematic, resulting in disapproving glances, exclusionary body language, and marginalising people’s experiences as invalid. This everyday racism is so commonplace that it’s often normalised and infused into daily conversations through jokes and stereotypes or through unconscious body gestures and expressions. The ‘everyday’ nature of racism can go unnoticed and many people do not question whether their behaviour or language is racist, as they only see explicit racist attacks as racism. All racism needs to be addressed, including the use of racist jokes and stereotypes that some people do not view as serious or discriminatory.


The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, sex, or disability. This means particular groups of people are treated in a different, notably worse way, than people who are not part of these groups and do not have these characteristics. Discrimination involves restricting members of one group from opportunities or privileges that are available to members of another group, and can lead to discriminatory thoughts, actions and behaviour impacting on marginalised groups lives.


An ethnic group or ethnicity is a named social category of people who identify with each other on the basis of shared attributes that distinguish them from other groups such as a common set of traditions, ancestry, language, history, society, culture, nation, religion, or social treatment within their residing area.


A lack of equality or fair treatment in the sharing of wealth or opportunities. Inequalities can be structural and personal, highlighting disparities/differences between the experiences of different groups or individuals. Here, racial inequality is a term used to highlight the unfair treatment of non-white people who experience a lack of equality in societal areas like employment, housing, access to healthcare, education and more.

Institutional Racism

A form of racism expressed in the practice of social and political injustices regarding wealth, income, criminal justice, employment, housing, healthcare and education; it is racism embedded in organisations and seen as normal practice. Institutional racism is demonstrated by the existence of institutional systemic policies, practices and economic and political structures that place minority racial and ethnic groups at a disadvantage in relation to an institution's racial or ethnic majority This can be also used to refer to systemic racism.


A statement, action or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised society or group such as an ethnic minority. Examples of microaggressions can be found in the Recognising Microaggressions section.


Race is a term used to group humans, based on shared physical or social categories, into categories viewed as distinct by society. Race is often regarded as a social construct; that is, it is not intrinsic to human beings but rather an identity created, often by socially dominant groups, to establish meaning in a social context. Race does not have an inherent physical or biological meaning, although it can be partially based on physical similarities within groups. It is conceptualised in different ways worldwide, with the subjugation of groups who are defined as ‘racially inferior’ being common across different definitions. Such racial identities reflect the cultural attitudes of imperial powers dominant during the age of European colonial expansion; particularly the view that black people are racially inferior to white people (see definitions for: White Supremacy, Colonialism). Whilst race is a social construct, this does not mean people do not experience material effects in their lives due to how their race is perceived, often resulting in discrimination.

Racial Justice

Equal and fair treatment for all races. Racial justice involves having policies, beliefs, practices, attitudes, and actions to promote equal opportunity and treatment for people of all races. It is an individual and an organisational responsibility.

Racial Slurs

A slur is an insulting or disparaging remark or innuendo, intended to shame or degrade an individual or a group. A racial slur is a word or phrase specifically intended to degrade members of a particular race. These are unacceptable for people to say from outside that group, and some racial slurs have long histories rooted in slavery and subjugation of particular races.


Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism by an individual, community, or institution against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized. Racism encapsulates the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.

Reverse Racism

This is described as prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a dominant or privileged racial or ethnic group. However, white people do not experience systemic discrimination on the basis of their race, and their position as the dominant and privileged racial group is not harmed as ethnic minorities lack the power to damage their reputation or position. An important aspect of racism is the use of power and authority to subjugate racial and ethnic minorities, which cannot be reversed in the current societal perceptions of race. Claiming reverse racism is seen to be a reactive response to people feeling their position as the dominant racial group is threatened by another, less powerful race, and thus is not considered a legitimate form of racism.

Systemic & Systematic Racism

These terms are often used interchangeably but mean different things. Systemic racism is prejudice and discrimination that is based solely on race and occurs in and affects the whole societal system of a nation. Systemic racism explains racism which is widespread and affects multiple aspects of society, for example media representation, education curricula and business policies. Racism is embedded into the institutions and organizations of society, such that laws, rules, procedures, etc. are influenced by and perpetuate racism—and typically in ways that are invisible to the white dominant culture. Systemic racism in social institutions like policing contributes to the disproportionate violence against black people, demonstrated through disproportionately high rates of arrest compared to white people.

Systematic racism is prejudice or discrimination methodically implemented according to a fixed plan or procedure against a race. It explains racism that is methodical, organised and intentional. For example, a specific clause in a housing policy that bans non-Caucasian people from buying a house is an example of systematic racism.

White Fragility

The discomfort, defensiveness and anger on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice. White fragility often occurs when white people feel they’re being accused of racism during conversations about race, creating barriers to progress as they react with defensiveness and are reluctant to engage in productive conversation. This stems from white privilege, as many white people have never had to confront race in the same way as racial minorities have, leading to a fear of addressing racial inequalities and reacting negatively. This is something many white people experience to different degrees and is a crucial feeling to acknowledge and work through by engaging in conversations about race and allyship.

White Privilege

The inherent advantages possessed by a white person on the basis of their race in a society characterized by racial inequality and injustice. White privilege means that white people haven’t had their lives made more difficult, or been discriminated against, because of the colour of their skin.

White Supremacy

The belief that white people constitute a superior race and should therefore dominate society, to the exclusion or detriment of other racial and ethnic groups. This is particularly enacted against black people, and white supremacy has been rooted in racism and colonialism throughout history. This belief has constructed a political ideology of white domination over other racial groups, seen through the Alantic slave trade, apartheid and Jim Crow laws. In academic usage, particularly in critical race theory or intersectionality, "white supremacy" can also refer to a social system in which white people enjoy structural advantages (privilege) over other ethnic groups, on both a collective and individual level, despite formal legal equality.


Recognising Microaggressions


When the dominant power (eg white hegemonic) takes something from the subjugated group but do not have to experience the suffering the subjugated person goes through. For example: White American Kylie Jenner making hair braids a fashion trend when they have cultural significance to the balck community but were not seen as ‘cool’ until Kylie Jenner’s appropriation. The difference between a cultural exchange and appropriation is that an exchange does not come with a power dynamic, whereas appropriation involves the more powerful/privileged individual taking from a culture that is not theirs and not giving anything back to that community.


This is the attempt to distract from the original trajectory of a difficult conversation. A person who is attempting to derail a conversation is usually doing so in order to interrupt a sense of internal discomfort they are experiencing, whether or not they are aware of it. In this sense, you could view derailing as a “flight” response – the person feels that they or their position is threatened, and so they say whatever is necessary in order to escape that feeling. For example: “I would rather us talk about the weather or something, speaking about race is too political. Anyway, look at that sunshine!”


This is a type of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment.


A statement, action or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised society or group such as an ethnic minority.

Tone Policing

When a person polices someone’s emotions, this most frequently occurs when the perpetrator has privilege and they wish for the conversation to be objective. However, the person they are in conversation with has subjective experience of oppression. For example: “There’s no need for you to get so aggressive, we’re just talking about race”


The technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue. For example, someone saying during a discussion about police brutality of white police officers attacking a black civilian: “But what about black on black crime?!”


Deconstructing Decolonising

British Empire

The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates, and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. At the height of its power and control, it was the largest empire in history. Due to the extent of its control, the British Empire has influenced many political, linguistic and cultural legacies for former colonies.


The writings or other works that are generally agreed to be good, important, and worth studying. In academia, for example, the literary canon is dominated by European, white, male authors, which creates assumptions that works by non-White, non-European and non-male authors are not important or worth studying.


The policy or practice of a wealthy or powerful nation's maintaining or extending its control over other countries, especially in establishing settlements or exploiting resources, generally with the aim of achieving economic dominance. Often used to describe the experience of colonies, countries which have been subject to a period of political control by a more powerful country. The indigenous people of these areas often have the cultural norms of the colonising country imposed upon them, and their natural resources and labour taken advantage of to benefit the colonial powers.

Colonial Power

A country which possesses, or formerly possessed, colonies in different parts of the world. Even when the colony is no longer under control of the more powerful country, the colonial power can still be felt, particularly through legacies of influences to culture, language and politics.


The action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area. One common example of colonisation is the British colonization of eastern North American during the 17th and 18th century. Whilst colonialism explains the practice of imposing colonial power on existing indigenous groups, colonisation refers specifically to the migration of people from the colonising country to another area to establish a settler colony. This process means those from the colonising country have more power over the indigenous people, due to their links to a country of greater wealth and power.


Curriculum typically refers to the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn in an educational programme, which includes the learning standards or learning objectives they are expected to meet; the units and lessons that teachers teach; the assignments and projects given to students; the books, materials, videos, presentations, and readings used in a course; and the tests, assessments, and other methods used to evaluate student learning. An individual teacher’s curriculum, for example, would be the specific learning standards, lessons, assignments, and materials used to organize and teach a particular course.


Fundamentally, decolonisation is the action or process of a state withdrawing from a former colony, leaving it independent. In education, decolonisation is confronting and challenging the colonising practices that have influenced education in the past, and which are still present today.

Decolonising the Curriculum

Decolonising the curriculum includes a fundamental reconsideration of who is teaching, what the subject matter is and how it’s being taught. Academia is built upon ingrained structural inequalities which prioritise particular systems of knowledge, learning and particular people who develop theories and information. Academia often prioritises Eurocentric, white, male thinkers and thoughts, with these forming the curriculum and other thinkers and knowledge being erased. Decolonising the curriculum aims to expand curricula to include scholarship from non-white, non-Eurocentric authors and researchers. Decolonising the curriculum aims to challenge who we consider to be an intellectual authority, to give opportunities for BAME people to see themselves reflected as legitimate producers of knowledge.

This is a long, complex process that needs to begin with staff and students in universities acknowledging the limited scope of current education and how this is failing its students and staff from experiencing the rich, culturally diverse education that exists outside of the narrow scope of Eurocentric white male knowledge. “It is not simply about the token inclusion of a few BAME writers, but an underlying transformation from a culture of denial and exclusion to a consideration of different traditions of knowledge. To diversify our curriculum is to challenge power relations and call for deeper thinking about the content of our courses and how we teach them.” - James Muldoon


A group of countries ruled by a single person, government, or country. There have been many examples of empires throughout history (e.g. British Empire, Persian Empire, Roman Empire etc) which are characterised by a major political power exerting rule over a number of countries. Empires can expand through colonisation, which involves claiming foreign lands for the empire and establishing settlements.


The state policy, practice, or advocacy of extending power and dominion, especially by direct territorial acquisition or by gaining political and economic control of other territories and peoples. While related to the concepts of colonialism and empire, imperialism is a distinct concept that can apply to other forms of expansion and many forms of government. Imperialism and colonialism both dictate the political and economic advantage over a land and the indigenous populations they control. Although imperialism and colonialism focus on the suppression of another, if colonialism refers to the process of a country taking physical control of another, imperialism refers to the political and monetary dominance.


Pedagogy is defined simply as the method, and practice, of teaching. It encompasses teaching styles, teaching theory and feedback and assessment. When people talk about the pedagogy of teaching, they will be referring to the way teachers deliver the content of the curriculum to a class.


Postcolonialism is the critical academic study of the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism, focusing on the human consequences of the control and exploitation of colonized people and their lands. Importantly, postcolonialism does not argue that the influence of colonialism is over once countries have withdrawn from colonies, or that we live in a world unaffected by colonialism today. Rather, it acknowledges that the world still retains many structural features of colonialism, including the continuation of British monarchy rule over Commonwealth realms today, and seeks to examine these legacies and impact.


Big Picture Definitions


In social science, agency is defined as the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. By contrast, structure are those factors of influence (such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, ability, customs, etc.) that determine or limit an agent and their decisions.


Diversity is about taking account of the differences between people and groups of people and placing a positive value on those differences. Diversity is about celebrating and valuing how different we all are. This is strongly linked with promoting human rights and freedoms, based on principles such as dignity and respect. Diversity is about recognising, valuing and taking account of people's different backgrounds, knowledge, skills, and experiences.


EDI is a common acronym used in companies and organisations to define Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. These words have further important definitions, as sometimes the meanings can be conflated.


Equality is about ensuring everybody has an equal opportunity and is not treated differently or discriminated against because of their characteristics. The Equality and Human Rights Commission defines equality as: ‘Equality is about ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents. It is also the belief that no one should have poorer life chances because of the way they were born, where they came from, what they believe, or whether they have a disability’.


The social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group. Hegemony can exist at an individual, group or state level; for example, the geopolitical and cultural dominance of one country over a less powerful country can be seen in the European colonial hegemonic influence over countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Hegemony affects the world view of the people subject to it, often making it difficult for people to recognise the influence, as much of the influence is embedded in long-standing societal structures.


Ideology is a set of beliefs or principles, especially one on which a political system, party, or organization is based, which influence the way individuals think, act, and view the world. Ideology is viewed as a set of ideas that become embedded in people’s world view; these ideas may or may not have basis in reality but become part of people’s truth by their consistent repetition by powerful groups. Ideologies become part of societal structures and assumptions about the world. Racism is an example of an ideology that views particular racialised groups as Other and blames undesirable social conditions on them. Political ideologies such as republican and Marxist are other examples, alongside cultural and social ideologies of feminism and individualism.


Inclusion is the action or state of including or being included within a group or structure – feeling part of the group to the same extent as other people. Organisations (including student societies) need to make sure they instill an inclusive culture facilitating people to proactively engage. Feeling included is a sense of being a part of a community or organisation.


Coined by Kimberlee Crenshaw, black lawyer and critical race theory scholar, intersectionality explains the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. This theoretical framework aims to explain how people experience life differently due to their particular social characteristics; for example, a black, transgender, heterosexual women experiences different levels of advantage and disadvantage to a white, cisgender, gay man. The combination of these characteristics influences privilege and discrimination and was first created to understand how women of colour were oppressed within society.

In early waves of feminism, scholars saw gender as the core characteristic that impacted a woman’s place in society. They ignored race and assumed all women shared the same white, middle-class experiences, so saw their disadvantages as coming from their gender. This exclusion of black women’s experiences, which are impacted by both racism and sexism, is challenged by intersectionality and encourages people to consider how these components of our identity interact and impact our position and experiences in the social world.


Created by black feminists Moya Bailey and Trudy, misogynoir explains the discrimination towards black women who experience misogyny on account of their gender and racism on account of their race. It is grounded in intersectionality theory, but more specifically focuses on the anti-black sexism experienced by black women. The term is often used in discussions about discrimination directed towards black women in popular music.


The action of bringing someone or something under domination or control. The term is often used in relation to colonial subjugation of a country, race or ethnic group.

Unconscious Bias

Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing. Biases can be held towards any group: race, age, gender, gender identity, physical abilities, religion, sexual orientation, weight, and many other characteristics are subject to bias. Challenging these implicit biases is important for everyone to question who they value and who they do not and how their behavior and decisions may be influenced by their unconscious biases.

Decolonising Practice

This section provides a comprehensive list of resources which any student or staff member may want to utilise for the purposes of decolonising practice.

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